Edible of the Month – Swiss Chard

Swiss Chard is one of our favorite greens to grow; partly because of its sheer beauty, and partly because our family prefers it to spinach.

Gardening Jones highlights this gorgeous and nutritious edible plant.

It is also a cut and come again plant, and since it does not bolt in the heat like spinach does, we prefer to grow it instead.

You can harvest by picking the outer leaves, as the new ones will grow in the middle. Even better, cut a bunch at a time and new leaves will grow. The stalks add a lot of color to salads and stir fry.

If you like it as much as we do, plan on planting a few bunches about 6 inches apart.

Overall you can expect to get a much better harvest for the space you use with chard. You can freeze it just as you would spinach, ot dehydrate to add to smoothies.

Chard is a relative of beets, you can tell by the seeds which are similar in size. I cannot verify that the seeds are diploid like beets are; if so you may get double seeds per pod.

Similarly to beets Swiss chard has a lot of health benefits. Here’s more on that.

Here’s a link to some great recipes from Cooking Light and more info on growing chard.

I’m working on a variety comparison chart and when that is completed I’ll share the link here.

I didn’t want to miss my end of the month self-imposed deadline. 😉

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March 31, 2016 · gj · No Comments
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The Resilient Tomato Plant

Gardening Jones looks at how much a tomato can take, and still come up kicking.

As gardeners we tend to pamper each tomato plant.

Not so much because they are delicate; I think perhaps it’s more because we really want them to grow successfully.

Years ago I had a 6-cell pack of tomatoes get hit with frost. Still, they made it.

Since then of course there have been mishaps, yet the tomato plants always seem to be able to take it in stride.

This year however, I thought I had pushed one little plant too far.

It was an accident of course, but this little tomato ended up losing it first set of true leaves.

If you read this link you will learn that a seedling feeds off the cotyledon, or the first leaves that appear, until it gets it’s first true leaves. These are the leaves that it will then use for photosynthesis and thus grow.

Can a seedling live longer than it would have on just the cotyledon?

I sure didn’t think so. But never say die when it comes to tomatoes.

Sure enough this wee one survived long enough to grow another set of true leaves. Can you see the tiny two just coming in off the broken main stem?

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it passes its garden-mates. Do you have a similar experience of tomato survival?

March 28, 2016 · gj · 3 Comments
Tags: , , , , ,  · Posted in: Common Garden Edibles, How to Grow

12 Plants that Help Save Gardening Space

Gardening Jones shares some plant varieties that can help you get more from your gardening space.

There are a number of plants that grow more compactly, thus saving you some gardening area. The yield will be less, but if space is an issue and canning tomato sauce isn’t, try some of these:

  1. Tom Thumb Peas, shown above. You can see that even at this small size, they are already flowering and soon will have peas growing on them. With a little succession planting, we can have fresh peas all summer from a small planter.
  2. Micro Tom tomato. This is really getting small, as in window sill gardening small. These plants only grow to about 8″, and produce tiny but flavorful 1″ tomatoes.
  3. Patio tomatoes. The name says it all here. These small plants will grow to about 2 ft. tall and produce an abundance of fruits weighing in at about 4 ounces. The plants are determinate, so if you are starting seeds you may want to stagger some plantings to get you further into the end of the season.
  4. Dwarf Kale. Topping off at only 16 inches, this variety is great for harvesting young. This is our first year growing it, so cannot attest to the flavor. We’ll get back to you on that.
  5. Dwarf Pak Choi is one of our favorites. We like the small plants because there are only 2 of us at home for most meals, and picking one is perfect. We think the flavor is every bit as good, maybe even better, than the larger varieties.
  6. Little Jade is a small version of napa cabbage that again is perfect for smaller meals. The v-shaped heads grow to 8-10″ tall and are wonderful in stir fry dishes.
  7. Mascotte Beans are one of the All-America Selection winners that grow so shallowly they only need a small planter. WE really liked the taste and considering how small the plants are, they produced a lot of beans all summer long. Keep in mind too that since beans and peas are self-pollinating, you can even grow them indoors.
  8. Strawberry Popcorn are just so cute and fun to grow. The adorable little plants only get to 4 ft. tall, and even make delightful fall decorations. The tiny ears are 4″ long, and produce a good crop for popcorn.
  9. Butterbush Butternut Squash. I’m really looking forward to growing these again this year. The fruit is just the right size for a small meal, and we got a good supply from just 2 plants. They did really well container grown as they were bred for just that.
  10. Little Fingers eggplants can be grown to full size if desired, but also can be harvested small if space is tight . Many people will say eggplants taste better small, so it’s a win-win.
  11. Nantes carrots are compact and only need a container 10″ deep. If you are really pressed, Parisienne are even smaller and can be grown in a very shallow container. Both have great flavor and are relatively easy to grow.
  12. Broccoli Raab takes much less space the head broccoli, grows faster, and you can eat the whole plant even if it is bolting. Does it get any better? Well, yeah. It taste great, maybe even better than broccoli.

There are a number of other great veggie varieties that do well in smaller gardens, or allow you to plant more in the space you have to choose from.

What’s your favorite smaller plant to grow in your garden?

 

March 26, 2016 · gj · No Comments
Tags: , , , , ,  · Posted in: FAQs, How to Grow, Specific Plant Varieties

Feeding the Gardening Addiction

Gardening Jones shares her newest addiction, a gardening subscription box.

Admitting you have a problem is the first step they say, and I came right out with it back in 2009 when this blog began.

It’s all above right there in the byline.

I never meant to be cured, mind you; but rather to share my passion and experience with others.

And okay, to get more people likewise addicted.

Well the result has way exceeded what I could have imagined.
A quarter million readers? How is that even possible?

Not long after I began sharing, I co-founded a Facebook group with my friend Tami called Gardenaholics Anonymous.

It was meant tongue-in-cheek, a bit of a joke. That’s how it started anyway. It now has over 19,000 members all very much into growing their own food.

And that’s awesome.

So we may as well make it 3 unexpected turns of events, right?

Our kids came up with the idea of a subscription box for gardeners.

How fun is that?

We’re just in pre-launch stage, but we do know that every box will be packed with many full size items, some samples, always something hand made, gardening tips and more. Anything and everything we can get our hands on that is gardening related.

The cost will always be less than the actual retail value, and a portion of the proceeds will help get food to those who need it most.

Gardening Jones shares her newest addiction, a gardening subscription box.

There’s no need to commit to anything, but if you are interested in following our progress, please click on the above logo and enter your email address.

Then start sharing with your gardening friends! There will be perks and prizes for those who share the most.

I guess you might say we’re kick-starting spring. Woohoo!

March 20, 2016 · gj · 3 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , ,  · Posted in: Addiction, Jonesen'

9 Tips for More Successful Transplants

A few simple tips to help your transplants thrive.

A few simple how-to’s can help your plants handle being transplanted better, and reduce the effects of transplant shock. Of course, always start with plants that have been hardened off.

  1. Moisten the soil your plant is in. This will help the soil stick to the roots, so the plant doesn’t have to experience a totally new environment. You want as much of the roots to stay intact as possible.
  2. Use a little sugar water. Dissolve a wee bit of sugar in water, and use this to moisten the soil. This helps some plants, and it doesn’t harm any, so it’s a safe bet.
  3. Except for tomatoes, dig the hole just a little bit deeper than the container the plant is in.
  4. Remove the plant gently, don’t pull it out of the pot. Place your fingers on either side of the stem, invert the pot, and push from the bottom or tap on the pot until the plant comes loose. If you have a multiple cell container, you need to be careful to protect all the plants in case they come out unexpectedly. Having them wet helps here too.
  5. Transplant at the right time. A cloudy day or towards the evening are ideal. The less sun on the plants for the first few hours the better. If you must transplant on a sunny day, cover the plants with an inverted pot to keep the sun off them.
  6. Water them in well.This helps blend the soils and makes the shock a little less.
  7. Be sure your plant is one that can handle being transplanted. Many veggies, such as corn, beans, fennel and melons don’t like to be disturbed. It can be done, but you really need to be careful. For these, it is best to use a biodegradable pot to start the seeds in.
  8. If you do plant the pot, be sure to either make some slits in the sides or remove the bottom. Your plant could suffer if the pot takes too long to degrade. We have found some of those Jiffy type cells still intact at the end of the season. Not good as this prevented the plants roots from spreading easily.
  9.  Go easy on the transplants. Give them some time to adjust to their new environment. Remember that more plants suffer from too much attention rather than too little.

March 19, 2016 · gj · No Comments
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Growing Chocolate

Gardening Jones shares an easy way to grow some chocolate flavor in your garden.
In a perfect world we would all be able to grow our own chocolate.

Actually, that would be a fantasy world. Although you can grow a Cacao Tree under the right conditions, you will not likely actually get chocolate from it.

You can get the scent of chocolate by growing Jerusalem Artichokes, which is wonderful to have in your garden. Also known as sunchokes, I just love walking by them when they are in bloom, and inhaling deeply. Mmmm… chocolate.

A few years ago I heard of a Chocolate Basil. I wanted it immediately. Turns out it was just a cruel rumor.

So what’s a chocolate-loving gardener to do?

You know how they say not to grocery shop when you are hungry? I think the same may be true for plant shopping. 😉

Check out the Chocolate Mint I h=just brought home, pictured above.

Yep, it smells mostly of mint with a hint of chocolate, much like a Peppermint Patty. Since it’s mint, it could be invasive in many areas, but its also a perennial. Planted in a container it could last forever.

Can you imagine the flavor of a homemade Chocolate Mint extract? The silver mint we have made and the peppermint are so fabulous. But I’m thinking now the chocolate mint will be the new favorite.

And I’m also thinking about gift-giving. Extracts. Cookies. And candy. Definitely candy. Yum.

More on Mint

March 18, 2016 · gj · No Comments
Tags: , , , , , , ,  · Posted in: Food Preservation, From Seed to Serve, Less Common Edibles

Celebrate Pi Day w/ an Easy Rhubarb Pie

Celebrate Pi Day with a homemade Rhubarb Pie, courtesy of Gardening Jones.

What’s your favorite pie? My husband and I agree this is one of our favorite pies, if not the favorite.

Why not celebrate Pi Day, 3.14.16, with a delicious homemade rhubarb pie. This is the closest we will get to Pi for 100 years, so why not make the most of it? Any excuse for pie works for me. 😉

Strawberry-Rhubarb pie is more commonly made than straight rhubarb, and that is good too; but the strawberries have a tendency to dominate the flavor.

Years ago I remember waiting on a nice couple in our restaurant; the wife was thrilled to find Rhubarb Pie on the menu sans the berries.

Her husband had never tasted it like that; he didn’t care for the pies with the berries.

He bravely opted to try her’s first, and decide if he wanted a piece or not. I brought out her slice then went confidently back into the kitchen for one for him.

Sure enough when I returned to the table, he ordered a piece.
“I thought so,” I said, and served the second slice.
“I felt the same way when I first tasted it.”

This recipe had been lost now for many years, it isn’t even in our long ago published cookbook. I actually came across it by accident, on a recipe card in a cookbook rarely use, with another recipe on the side that was showing.

Serendipity, gotta love it.

It was so faded that if it weren’t for the fact that it had the original plus a ‘For 7 Pies’ ingredient list I might never have been able to decipher it.

Rhubarb Pie

Set your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

Mix together and set aside:
1 ¼ cup sugar
2 Tablespoons flour
2 eggs
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla

If you grow your own rhubarb, cut the stalks and remove those pretty leaves. If you buy it, wash the stalks well.

Cut the stalks into 1” chunks and place in the bottom of a prepared unbaked pie shell. For a 9” pie this is about 5 cups or so of rhubarb.

Add the mixture from above. Bake for aprox. 35-45 minutes or until the crust starts to turn brown; after many years of baking I don’t time anything, I go by smell and appearance, but this is an experienced guess-estimate.

Serve warm. Nice with a little whipped cream or ice cream, but stands well on its own.

How to Grow Rhubarb
25 Perfect Pies from Martha Stewart

March 14, 2016 · gj · No Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , ,  · Posted in: From Seed to Serve, Recipes

FAQ: About First True Leaves

If you grow plants from seeds, you will likely hear many gardeners say not to transplant your seedlings until they have their first true leaves.

Gardening Jones takes a look at what true leaves are, and what that means .

Cotyledon or Primary leaves

 

This isn’t exactly correct. My Dad has been gardening for 90 years, and he thinks that old gardener’s tale is funny. I’ll tell you why. But first, let me show you what they are talking about.

In the picture above you see the cotyledon, or primary leaves. These are the first leaves the seedling will have. They are actually part of the seed’s embryo, and they serve to feed the seedling at this stage. Baby seedlings are too young yet to photosynthesize, or feed themselves.

If you look closely you can just see the first true leaves coming out.

Gardening Jones takes a look at what true leaves are, and what that means.

Heart shaped cotyledon with the first set of True leaves.

In this next photo you can see the first set of true leaves have grown.

So here’s the thing about not transplanting a seedling until it has its first set of true leaves. The more true leaves a plant has the stronger it is considered to be, and the better able to handle being transplanted.

That being said, it doesn’t mean it can’t be transplanted. If a seedling is at risk it is better to transplant it than to wait. I have done this numerous times with success.

If you find you have problems like damping off, it is better not to wait.

I will also admit I have transplanted sooner to free up space for more seeds to start. Perhaps it isn’t the best thing to do, but it works for me.

If you can wait for the first set of true leaves, or even more sets, do so. Just know that if you need to transplant sooner you can.

Note that I read somewhere once that you really have to wait for cucurbits to get their first true leaves. These would be the cucumbers, melons, and squash. I have never tested this because I always direct seed.

Hmmm. I think I feel an experiment coming on. 😉

March 12, 2016 · gj · One Comment
Posted in: FAQs, Gardening

Easier Whole Roasted Cauliflower

Gardening Jones shares her delicious experience of roasting a whole head of cauliflower.

I recently came across this video on how to make roasted cauliflower.

There were some details missing and IMHO they used way too much oil. I also wanted to simplify things.

So of course, I made changes. Then I made it again, with one more tweak.

Roasted Cauliflower

1 head cauliflower

Sesame oil

2-3 large portabella mushrooms

1/4 onion, chopped

Garlic powder

Guacamole, optional

Cut all the leaves off and remove most but not all of the cauliflower’s core. You want to have enough intact so that the florets stay attached. Wash.

I rubbed with just enough sesame oil to cover the head and sprinkled with a little garlic powder. Place in a lightly oiled cast iron skillet.

Roast for about an hour at 350F. This will vary by how large the cauliflower head is, and how well you like it done.

About halfway through, toss in some chopped onions.

In the meantime wash and stem some portabellas or your favorite mushroom. The first time I left them whole, as is pictured. It was easier though to slice them and just add to the pan about 5 minutes before the cauliflower is done. You can sprinkle them with a wee bit more sesame oil if you like.

To serve,  top some of the mushrooms with cut cauliflower florets. They easily will cut away from the core now.

This recipe got rave reviews in our kitchen, even from those that don’t really favor cauliflower. The oil and roasting improves its flavor a lot.

I think this is one of the best recipes we have had in quite a while.

So much so, in fact, that I started more cauliflower seeds.

How to Grow Cauliflower

7 Varieties of Cauliflower + 3 More

Health Benefits of Cauliflower

March 11, 2016 · gj · 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,  · Posted in: From Seed to Serve, Recipes

What to Do in the Garden – March

Gardening Jones shares what she is doing this month to get her hands dirty again.

Here in our Zone 5/6 garden, March is the time to really get moving.

The temperatures this month are expected to be a wee bit warmer than normal, which will make it easier to get some of the grunt work done.

Compost and composted manure get added to many of the beds so they will be ready when needed. We also cover a number of beds with black plastic to help warm them up faster.

Any planters that don’t contain a perennial herb will be emptied and washed. Not to waste, we add that soil to our other beds. This way all the planting areas will be ready when our warm season starts at the end of May.

Later in the month we will be able to plant peas, greens, Lima beans, and potatoes outdoors. We are already transplanting our cole crop and leafy greens seedlings into larger Solo cups, and will get them out when they are big enough. Of course we will be careful in case April decides to throw us a punch, but it is unlikely.

We are also getting ready to start tomatoes later this month.

Okay, actually today, 😉 Since we intend to share many of the plants, we want them to be a good size at planting time.

Before the month is over we can start eggplants as well, and will likely start peppers.

Did you know peppers like to be planted in pairs? It’s known casually as The Buddy System, which also refers to companion planting in general. With peppers, two plants can help physically support each other if the weather gets windy. My dad always said “The best way to plant peppers is too close together.”

So here’s to the coming of spring, maybe this year our Pennsylvania’s Groundhog will be right.

March 6, 2016 · gj · 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , ,  · Posted in: Gardening, Month by Month